WINNIPEG – After watching his team’s offence dry up on a six-game road trip, Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel hoped his team would score more than once at home against Toronto.
He got his wish, barely, but two goals were enough to cool off the streaking Maple Leafs.
Chris Thorburn scored a rare goal and Bryan Little added the winner as the Jets edged the Maple Leafs 2-1 Tuesday.
“We don’t particularly care who it comes from as long as we get a little more than one,” Noel said after Thorburn scored only his second goal of the season to get the Jets rolling.
Winnipeg (25-24-6) now has 56 points, winning at a loud MTS Centre after a 2-4 road trip in which it scored just six goals over six games. Home-ice advantage has been one of the few consistent weapons the Jets have found this season.
The Jets made the most of their brief homestand, and now hit the road for two more away games starting Thursday in Washington. The Jets hope this result will lead to better success on the road.
“We haven’t been pretty good on the road but hopefully this win will kind of set things in motion,” Little said. “We have another big road trip coming up and we need these points. Every game is going to be important for us.”
Toronto (28-20-6) failed to gain any ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Maple Leafs currently hold seventh place in the conference, one point ahead of Ottawa.
Toronto had won three games in a row and lost only one in its previous six coming into Winnipeg.
Phil Kessel scored Toronto’s only goal, skating smoothly around Winnipeg defenceman Tobias Enstrom to slip his 30th of the season past Ondrej Pavelec at 11:06 of the first period.
Winnipeg replied from an unlikely source as Thorburn scored at 14:16. The low-scoring Thorburn looked like a sniper as he dipped and flipped a solid backhander past Toronto netminder Jonas Gustavsson.
The Jets went ahead for good at 9:47 of the second period. Gustavsson managed a great save to keep Blake Wheeler from scoring his 11th goal of the season, but Little slammed in the rebound to give Wheeler a team-leading 26 assists.
Pavelec made 17 saves for the Jets, while Gustavsson stopped 27 shots for the Leafs.
“All season long we’re staying positive,” said Pavelec, who showed once again how valuable he is to the team, although this time he got a lot of help in front of the net.
“We know we can play. We know we can beat those teams.”
Manitoba native James Reimer, who has been hot of late in goal for the Leafs, didn’t second guess coach Ron Wilson’s decision to give him a rest but admitted it was a little frustrating as a spectator.
“It was disappointing. I felt like we had the chances and we controlled most of the play,” he said.
“We just couldn’t find any good scoring chances in tight. Kudos to them for blocking up the net.”
Noel was a little miffed that the referee missed what could have been a late-game power play for the Jets. He said when Toronto pulled Gustavsson late in the game the goaltender played the puck after heading off the ice.
It was a fast and relatively clean game except for an unenthusiastic fight between Winnipeg’s Johnny Oduya and Toronto’s Joey Crabb early in the third.
Winnipeg and Toronto both failed to score on two power-play opportunities.
Top Winnipeg scorer Evander Kane made his first appearance in the Jets lineup since Jan. 19 after missing games with concussion-like symptoms but his ice time was limited.
“Hopefully next game I’m a little more involved,” said Kane, who showed no reluctance to go into the corners.
“Taking those hits early on just gave me a little more confidence.”
Notes: The Leafs lost their first game in Winnipeg 3-2 on Dec. 31. In that game Antti Miettinen had two of the three assists he has managed since donning a Jets uniform. … The Jets power play has now been out of juice for seven games. … Winnipeg defenceman Zach Bogosian left the game clutching his wrist early in the second but returned later in the period.